SAN ANTONIO — Infuriated by new allegations of dysfunction at a San Antonio veterans hospital, U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith fired off a letter on Thursday insisting that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ acting inspector general demonstrate that an ongoing investigation into medical records manipulation is “thorough and independent.”
“Four employees who schedule medical appointments for veterans at the [Audie L. Murphy Memorial Veterans Hospital] claim that care for sick or injured veterans is often delayed for months and that senior managers at the hospital direct the schedulers to hide these delays,” Smith wrote in the June 4 letter.
The San Antonio NBC affiliate, WOAI, aired a report on Monday in which four people who work in scheduling at the hospital anonymously alleged that administrators hand picked employees to be interviewed by VA inspectors and coached staffers to be misleading about the use of “recall lists” to avoid scheduling necessary medical appointments.
“I know there are patients that leave the hospital very sick needing appointments and those appointments are never scheduled, they fall through the cracks,” one of the whistleblowers told WOAI.
In his letter, Smith writes, “If this is true, how can you claim that your investigation is an independent and comprehensive review? These new reports raise serious questions about the legitimacy of the OIG investigation, not only at the [South Texas Veterans Health Care System], but also nationwide.”
Last month, Smith led two dozen members of Texas’ congressional delegation in asking acting inspector general Richard J. Griffin to investigate claims of scheduling manipulation at three other Central Texas veterans health care facilities: The North Central Federal Clinic in San Antonio, the Austin Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic and the Waco Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The fresh accusations concerning the Audie L. Murphy Memorial Veterans Hospital make a fourth VA facility in Texas to come under lawmakers’ scrutiny.
In a May 27 response to the letter from Texas members of Congress, Griffin confirmed that his staff was investigating the allegations made of records manipulation at three Central Texas facilities.
“While much has been done, much more remains ahead. Be assured, however, that these reviews are the OIG’s top priority and maximum resources are dedicated to bring about their timely conclusion,” Griffith wrote.
U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, who was not a signatory to the Texas delegation’s original letter, told WOAI that the most recent allegations at the Audie L. Murphy hospital are “appalling.”
“Whoever’s responsible for that should find another job,” Doggett said. “… We need a totally new investigation. We may need a totally new OIG if this was not done at an arms-length basis.”
Both Smith and Doggett represent districts that include portions of Hays County and San Marcos.
COVER: U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith and other Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives address health care reform at a press conference in January 2011. PHOTO by RACHEL CHRISTIANSEN